If you had traveled seven miles northwest of Conroe, TX, about 50 years ago, you would have found nothing but a dustbowl. The lakebed had completely dried up after a drought that had lasted for years. When the bed was refilled with water in 1973, however, Lake Conroe quickly became not only a draw in the real estate market, but also a place for Houstonians and other nearby Texans to boat and swim.
For a few years, the 21,000-acre lake remained relatively unoccupied, with only a handful of boats out on the water on any given day. Today, it’s a different story, with thousands of boats packed in on weekends and popular holidays like the 4th of July. As you can imagine, this means that the number of accidents that occur on this beautiful lake has also risen.
Is Lake Conroe dangerous? How did it go from a quiet lake community to the deadliest lake in Texas? And what can you do to avoid an accident or injury while enjoying the waters of Lake Conroe?
Lake Conroe Deaths
Between 2010 and 2020, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) reported 26 deaths at Lake Conroe that were related to boating accidents and/or drowning.
Since 2016, Montgomery County’s Precinct 1 Constable’s Office has reported an additional 17 incidents of possible or near-drowning. This is partially related to the increased activity on the lake over the years.
Currently, there are six officers patrolling the area who perform frequent safety checks. At least one member of the lake patrol is always on the water. While the Precinct 1 Lake Division has taken measures to increase safety, however, they can’t always force people to behave in a safe manner.
Top 5 Dangers at Lake Conroe
Lakes can be inherently dangerous due to a variety of factors like topography (steep drop-offs) or currents related to winds. Lake Conroe has a maximum depth of 75 feet; and while winds are typically mild in this area, averaging around 7 mph, they can increase to 20 mph or more at times. But why is Lake Conroe, in particular, so dangerous? It often comes down to the people that visit the area.
High Volume Boating
Since the lake was refilled in 1973, the area has seen a steady increase in visitors, especially on the weekends and summer holidays.
In addition, it’s not unusual to see around 2,000 boats on the water during the summer season, amounting to roughly one boat for every 10.5 acres of the lake’s surface. That might not sound like a lot until you consider that some speed boats can go up to about 100 mph.
With so many boats on the water, it doesn’t take much for collisions to occur. At high speeds, drivers might not see swimmers in the water until it’s too late to avoid them, either. When you add alcohol and a lack of safety precautions to the mix, it’s no wonder that this area has a problem with boat accidents and deaths.
When it comes to answering the question, “Is Lake Conroe dangerous?” the topic of drinking and driving can’t be avoided.
According to state officials, one of the greatest contributing factors to recreational boater deaths, in general, is the use of alcohol. State figures show that it is a common denominator in the majority of boating accidents, as well as deaths on Texas lakes. Between 2000 and 2014, alcohol was cited as a factor in 16 out of 22 boating deaths on Lake Conroe.
In the state of Texas, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a canoe, a kayak, or a Baja speedboat — it’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Imbibing on boats is not prohibited, however, as long as the operator isn’t the one drinking.
Failure to Observe Safety Precautions
Of the top 5 dangers at Lake Conroe, you might think alcohol would be the deadliest, but the truth is that many deaths are preventable with simple safety precautions like wearing a life jacket or having a kill switch. State records show that almost 85% of victims in boating accidents weren’t wearing life jackets.
There are other safety issues being overlooked, as well. For example, boat rentals require an individual to hold a driver’s license, and also to go through a safety checklist on how to operate the boat and identify the location of safety equipment.
However, the Precinct 1 Lake Division has come across renters that lack any documentation that shows they’ve met safety requirements. In essence, there’s no proof that drivers know how to operate the boat they’re driving or that they have any knowledge of the safety gear on board. Why is Lake Conroe dangerous? This could be one of the root causes.
Boats may also be missing required safety items like life jackets for every passenger, a kill switch to stop the boat if the driver is thrown overboard, or a registration card for the boat itself. Although violations incur a $200 fine, the Lake Division reportedly issued 200 citations between January and July of 2020, including some for non-permitted boats or a lack of life jackets; 95 of the 200 citations were for boats that were missing safety checklist items.
Between 2010 and 2020, 26 drowning deaths were reported on Lake Conroe by the TPWD. Of those, 9 involved alcohol, 14 involved a boat or vessel, and 5 involved boat crashes. In some cases, drowning victims were first thrown from the boat as a result of a crash.
Year-round water temperatures in Lake Conroe fluctuate between an average of 48°F in the winter and 86°F in the summer. Water that falls below about 60°F can cause hypothermia. Cold fronts can move in quickly, impacting those who are active in the water.
If swimmers don’t have a life jacket or a way to call for help, they can succumb to hypothermia and drown.
Skilled Legal Representation for Boating Accidents
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a boating accident on Lake Conroe, the qualified and compassionate attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can help. Call us now at (713) 973-8888 to schedule a free consultation with our legal team.